May 7, 2013

The need for pastors to counsel

by Bill Shannon

We live in a world filled with uncertainty and tragedy. Every day we hear of some event that devastates people’s lives. Where can these people turn? Where can the husband turn if his wife is found in adultery? Where can the mom turn if her child dies? Where can you turn to if you lose a job? Should people in such tragic circumstances be forced to look for help from professional counselors?

bible in sunPastors need to be equipped to give hope to people through the most severe trials. They ought to be equipped to take hurting congregants to the scriptures and point them to a powerful sovereign God who cares about the lost and hurting. The pastor ought to be able revive the common hope we have from believing in a God who cares about troubled and broken people.   

Yet with all the resources available for pastors, too often I hear of pastors who sub-let this task. They refer congregants not to the Word, but to outside “professionals.” In so doing, pastors relegate soul care to those outside the church, and away from the accountability and validation of the church elders. The result is that some within the church lose confidence in either the sufficiency of scripture, or in the pastor’s knowledge of the Bible. After all, if the pastor can’t give counsel from the Bible, then certainly the problem is either with the pastor or the Bible.

Scriptures tells us that every believer in Christ is both capable and equipped for the ministry of encouragement to another believer. Romans 15:14 says, “Concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.”

The duty and responsibility of every pastor is to take care of the soul-work in their flock. It is the preaching of the word of God that produces the need for help as people realize they need pastoral care in putting off habitual sin. The pastor should to be equipped to do this kind of work. Yes, he may have gone to seminary, yes he may know his Bible in the Greek and the Hebrew but does he know how to talk to “Joe hurting” and help him in his darkness?

This is where pastors are tested; how they fare in the trenches of life is really the measure of their ministry. We need to be equipped to bring the Bible to bear on the difficulties of life, and we need to counsel with confidence—a confidence that is not in ourselves, but rooted in the word of God. To avoid these difficulties is to ultimately fail as a shepherd and cast doubt on trustworthiness of the Bible.

Bill Shannon


Bill is the counseling and care pastor at Grace Community Church, in Los Angeles. He teaches biblical counseling at The Master's College and Seminary.
  • GinaRD

    It’s good and important for a pastor to be able to give counsel from the Bible. Thus far I agree. But sometimes outside professional care is needed. There’s nothing wrong with referring a congregant with mental and emotional problems to a professional counselor, any more than there would be in referring a congregant with physical problems to a doctor.

    • Frank

      I don’t think He’s saying not to send them for help in certain situations. There certainly are physical conditions that make it hard to think, for example, low blood sugar because someone is suffering from diabetes. However, many of those physical conditions have other symptoms besides just mere “emotional pain” or “cloudy thinking.” I also believe, he’s not saying to tell someone to stop going to such care.

      Scripture is clear that we need to learn more about ourselves and the sin that so easily entangles. At the core of everyone is the problem of sin (physical problems are even the result of the affects of sin and the fall). More often then not, one will find that Scripture and other believers are going to be the encouragement a person needs so that they will not have to pay for extra care. Obviously some situations are more complicated than others. However, I think he’s just saying: “Don’t throw out your Bible, act like believers and run there first!”

    • Mark

      Much is wrong with referring a congregant (given he or she is a believer) to a professional counselor who is not a biblical counselor. A non-biblical counselor can only make observations of humans and has no source of truth or authority to deal with non-organic problems. They have no true hope to offer. Biblical counseling uses the Bible which is the source of truth and authority to rightly deal with these problems (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:3).

  • Jason Gillespie


    I appreciate your post, it means a lot coming from a man that lives those truths out. Thanks for the reminder.

  • YES. This is *such* a needed bell to be rung throughout Christiandom..!

    There seems to be a Biblical counseling/training movement among lay people (as well as pastor/elders) in the church, which is very encouraging because I believe Pastor’s could really use the help of the saints in this area, and there is some excellent training available. Faith Ministries out of LaFayette, IN is one such place. They’ve been conducting training conferences throughout the country designed for participants to begin NANC certification. I’ll be finishing track 1 here in MN in a few weeks. I am just a pup! I have been very encouraged to see the amount of people attending these trainings..very.

    So thankful for God’s abounding grace in this world.

  • Bill

    My suggestion is that pastors do pastoral work and doctors focus on the physical needs. If a person has a thyroid problem or a physical issue of some kind a doctor is very helpful and necessary to deal with these issues.

  • Bill

    Scripture is clear in its sufficiency (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and scope of that sufficiency is found in 2 Peter 1:3. The article is directed at the pastor who is feeling inadequate in his ability to help people with the things of life. The Scripture is the place to find those answers. There are organizations such as already mentioned (NANC) or The Master’s College for MABC that will equip to a greater degree those who can help those hurting because of the difficulties of life. I would suggest a trip to Alabama in the fall (Oct. 7-9) to the NANC Conference for help in the skill of ministering the word of life to God’s people.

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  • Matt

    Thanks Pastor for a very helpful post!!! I’ve really enjoyed your recent series in Faithbuilders on counseling as well!!! Great to see you on Cripplegate!